Statistics Canada study findings suggest that youth diagnosed with neurodevelopmental conditions (such as learning disabilities) and mental health conditions (such as ADHD) in their school years face barriers to enrolling in postsecondary education that are distinct from those confronting other youth.
Are Mental Health and Neurodevelopmental Conditions Barriers to Postsecondary Access?
Rubab Arim and Marc Frenette
Social Analysis and Modelling Division
The benefits of obtaining a postsecondary education (PSE) are well documented. Various factors such as sex, academic performance, and parental education and income have been identified as key determinants of enrollment in PSE. Yet, relatively little attention has been paid to the independent role of disability as a barrier to enrolling in PSE.
The purpose of this study was to address this gap by comparing the postsecondary enrollment rates of youth aged 18 to 22 who fell under one of four categories during their school years:
- had no long-term diagnosed health condition including neurodevelopmental, mental health and other conditions (comparison group)
- had a neurodevelopmental condition (NDC)
- had a mental health condition (MHC)
- had both an NDC and an MHC.
The health conditions were captured in the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY), which was linked to the T1 Family File (T1FF). The T1FF contains information on tuition credits and education and textbook amounts, both of which help identify postsecondary enrollment.
The classification of youth’s health consisted of four groupings:
- youth in the comparison group (who were not diagnosed with any long-term health condition in their school years)
- youth who had an NDC only (including epilepsy, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability and learning disability)
- youth who had an MHC only (including ADHD and emotional, psychological or nervous difficulties)
- youth with both an NDC and an MHC.
A majority (86%) of youth with an NDC had a learning disability, whereas 71% of youth with an MHC had ADHD.
The findings suggest that 77% of youth who were not diagnosed with any long-term health condition in their school years (the comparison group) enrolled in postsecondary education (PSE) by their early 20s.
In contrast, 60% of youth diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental condition (NDC) enrolled in PSE in the same time frame (a gap of 17 percentage points), while
Only 48% of youth diagnosed with a mental health condition (MHC) enrolled in PSE (a gap of 29 percentage points compared with youth in the comparison group).
Youth diagnosed with both an NDC and an MHC were even less likely to enroll, with only 36% going on to PSE (41 percentage points behind youth in the comparison group). *
Differences in sex, academic performance and family background (e.g., parental income and education) explain only about one-third of these gaps.
Among the MHCs, the most common diagnosis was Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Youth with an ADHD diagnosis were less likely to pursue PSE than youth diagnosed with other types of MHCs such as emotional, psychological or nervous difficulties.
These findings suggest that youth diagnosed with neurodevelopmental conditions and mental health conditions in their school years face barriers to enrolling in postsecondary education that are distinct from those confronting other youth.
*LDAO Note: Since ADHD is the most common disorder to co-exist with learning disabilities, it is likely that a good portion of the youth with both an NDC and MHC would have LDs/ADHD.